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Caribbean Islands

 
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Caribbean Islands

Government and Politics

The Governmental System

Grenada has been an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations since 1974 (see Appendix B). This status has been one of the few constants during Grenada's somewhat turbulent history since that date. Although the 1979-83 tenure of the PRG led by Bishop produced marked changes in the governmental system, the PRG chose not to break its formal ties with the Commonwealth.

The PRG did revoke the independence Constitution of 1973, preferring to rule by revolutionary decree (or "people's laws"). This action produced some legal complications, particularly in the case of the judiciary. After the United States-Caribbean military intervention of October 1983 that deposed the short-lived Revolutionary Military Council established by Bernard Coard and General Hudson Austin of the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA), the Constitution of 1973 was brought back into force by Governor General Paul Scoon (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). Some judicial provisions established under the PRG were retained, however, for the sake of continuity and for the facilitation of the transition to a more representative government.

The 1973 Constitution provides for a parliamentary system of government on the Westminster model. The theoretical head of state is the British monarch, whose authority is represented on the island by a governor general. When an elected Parliament is in place, the governor general has little real authority and limited official duties (a role similar to that of the monarch in the British government). The governor general is not altogether a figurehead, however, as demonstrated by the events of the 1983-84 period. Scoon assumed constitutional authority in October 1983; he subsequently appointed the Advisory Council (also known as the Interim Government) led by Nicholas Braithwaite, which guided Grenada until parliamentary elections could be held in December 1984.

Even when an elected Parliament is in place, the governor general retains a degree of latent constitutional authority. For example, it is the governor general who must dismiss members of Parliament (for nonattendance or criminal conviction, among other reasons), even though in practice this action is taken only at the urging of the prime minister or the leader of the opposition. The governor general also has the power to declare a state of emergency, a declaration that has the effect of dissolving Parliament.

Parliament is the major governmental institution in Grenada. It is a bicameral legislature, with a lower house referred to as the House of Representatives and an upper house known as the Senate. Representation in the House of Representatives is apportioned according to population. The leader of the party securing the majority of seats in Parliament is named prime minister by the governor general. The leader of the party winning the next largest bloc of seats is named leader of the opposition.

The position of senator is nonelective. The prime minister has the authority to recommend the appointment of seven senators of his own choosing, plus an additional three senators who are to be selected in consultation with "the organizations or interests which the Prime Minister considers the Senators should be elected to represent." These "organizations and interests," although not enumerated in the Constitution, traditionally encompass agricultural and business groups as well as trade unions. In addition to the ten senators nominated by the prime minister, the leader of the opposition is entitled to three nominations of his own. Thus, total membership of the Senate is thirteen.

According to the 1973 Constitution, Parliament "may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Grenada." Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution by a two-thirds vote of both houses. The Constitution also makes provision for amendment by referendum. The House of Representatives wields the power of the purse; so-called money bills (bills dealing with taxation, public debt, or grants of public funds) may only be introduced in that chamber. Nonmoney bills may be introduced in either chamber. Sessions of Parliament must be held at least once each year, with intervals of no more than six months between the end of the last sitting of one session and the beginning of the next.

The parliamentary system gives a great deal of power to the prime minister, who can control the workings of government through the authority granted the prime minister to call and dissolve sessions of Parliament. One complaint lodged against Prime Minister Blaize in the Grenadian press since 1985 has concerned his failure to call frequent parliamentary sessions. This tactic allows important governmental matters, e.g., the formulation of the budget, to be handled exclusively by the cabinet, thus limiting the input and oversight of Parliament.

The power of the prime minister rests further in the authority to name a cabinet of ministers who assume responsibility for the administration of the government in such areas as the prime minister may designate. The prime minister frequently assumes direct control over key portfolios or over ministries of particular personal or political interest. For example, after his party's electoral victory in December 1984, Prime Minister Blaize took charge of the ministries of home affairs, security, information, Carriacou affairs (Blaize is a native of the island of Carriacou), finance and trade, and industrial development and planning.

The Grenadian judiciary has been the branch of government most affected by the political events of the post-1979 period. Prior to the advent of the PRG, Grenada participated in the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court along with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as provided for by the West Indies Act of 1967. The Bishop government severed this association and set up the Grenada Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. Magistrate's courts were retained by the PRG to administer summary jurisdiction.

After the events of October 1983, the status of the courts set up by the PRG came into question. The legality of their continued operation was challenged specifically by defense attorneys for Coard, Austin, and other defendants who were to stand trial for the October 19, 1983, murder of Bishop and others in Fort Rupert (the name given to Fort George between 1979 and 1983 in honor of Bishop's father) in St. George's. The Grenada Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal considered several such challenges under its civil jurisdiction, but it rejected them under the doctrine of "state necessity," thus permitting both the court and the trial to continue. Meanwhile, the Blaize government formally applied in July 1986 for readmission to the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court. Upon acceptance into this court system, the Grenada Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will be abolished because cases involving both original jurisdiction and appeal can be submitted to the regional court.

The civil service (or public service, as it is known in Grenada) is professional and generally apolitical, although there have been instances in Grenada's colonial history when an entrenched bureaucracy has acted to frustrate the ambitions of a ruler, e.g., Eric Gairy's conflicts with the bureaucracy during his brief tenure as the island's chief minister in 1961-62. The civil service still owes much to its British colonial origins. Its relative autonomy, once a product of isolation from the mother country, was legally reinforced by the Constitution of 1973. During the period of the Constitution's suspension by the PRG, the civil service was politicized to some degree as the ruling NJM sought to solidify its control over all aspects of Grenadian life. During the time the PRG was in power, the civil service lost a great many experienced employees to emigration. The loss reflected to some extent the traditionally high levels of outmigration; in the case of civil servants, however, the motivation was in many cases more political than economic, expressing the employees' unwillingness to cooperate or collaborate with the workings of the "revo." The basic unit of the electoral system is the constituency. For the elections of 1984, the country was divided into several constituencies (some constituencies are grouped into parishes, a traditional designation deriving from the discontinued local government organization). In the December 1984 elections, fifty-two candidates competed for the fifteen seats in the House of Representatives. The total number of registered voters was 48,152; of these, 41,041 (or 85.2 percent) went to the polls, a reflection of the general enthusiasm for the return of electoral politics.

Data as of November 1987

Caribbean Islands - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • GRENADA


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